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VIDEO: Astrobotic's Moon Lander Solar Panels Fail After ULA Vulcan Rocket Launch from the Cape

Cape Canaveral - Monday January 8, 2024: The first U.S. moon landing in more than 50 years is in jeopardy after the privately built moon lander aboard developed a critical propulsion issue hours after separation.

It was ULA's first launch of its new Vulcan Centaur rocket and it took off smoothly from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 2:18 a.m. Monday morning. It successfully put Astrobotic’s lander, named Peregrine, onto a long, roundabout path to the moon.

Then about seven hours into the flight, Peregrine's solar panels failed to deploy properly and point towards the sun. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology raced to orient the lander toward the sun so its solar panel could collect sunlight, as its battery power dwindled.

If the propulsion system is at fault, it “threatens the ability of the spacecraft to soft land on the moon” on Feb. 23, the company said in a statement.

"We continue to gather data and report our best assessment of what we see,” the company added.

Astrobotic was aiming to be the first private company to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon, something only four countries have accomplished. A second lander from a different Houston based company is due to launch next month.


NASA gave the two companies millions to build and fly their own lunar landers. The space agency wants the privately owned landers to scope out the place before astronauts arrive while delivering tech and science experiments for NASA, other countries and universities as well as odds and ends for other customers. Astrobotic's contract for the Peregrine lander: $108 million.

The last time the U.S. launched a moon-landing mission was in December 1972. Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th men to walk on the moon, closing out an era that has remained NASA’s pinnacle.

The space agency’s new Artemis program — named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — looks to return astronauts to the moon’s surface within the next few years. First will be a lunar fly-around with four astronauts, possibly before the end of the year.

Highlighting Monday's moonshot was the long-delayed initial test flight of the Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The 202-foot (61-meter) rocket is essentially an upgraded version of ULA’s hugely successful workhorse Atlas V, which is being phased out along with the company’s Delta IV. Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, provided the Vulcan's two main engines.